We gave it an A-
The Cornwall, England-based theater troupe Kneehigh burst onto the New York scene three years ago with its delightfully inventive adaptation of David Lean’s 1946 film melodrama Brief Encounter. Now they return to Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse with an equally creative and moving production, The Wild Bride (playing through March 17).
Writer-director Emma Rice incorporates music, dance, pantomime, puppetry, slapstick, and some ingenious stagecraft to tell a simple but moving fable based on the ancient yarn ”The Handless Maiden.” In Rice’s retelling, the Devil (Andrew Durand) makes a lopsided deal with a feckless man (Stuart Goodwin) who is, as he says, ”so broke I can’t even pay attention.” The poor fellow sells his backyard and all its contents to the smooth-talking Devil — not realizing that his beloved young daughter (Audrey Brisson) is there at the time. He even agrees to chop off his daughter’s too-pure hands — which prompts Brisson to sink hers in buckets of red paint and then belt out a soulful version of Robert Johnson’s ”Crossroads” with the two on-stage musicians.
At this point, the wonderfully expressive Patrycia Kujaswka (who had the lead in Kneehigh’s adaptation of The Red Shoes, which played at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2010) takes over as the heroine, banished to the woods as the Devil waits for her soul to be sullied enough to claim for himself. Out in the wilderness, she meets a prince (Goodwin again) — though the Devil conspires to thwart her happiness until our heroine (now played by Etta Murfitt) eventually achieves her bittersweet happily ever after.
Beneath the simplicity of Rice’s storytelling is a rich blend of visual and aural styles. The music includes original songs, traditional spirituals and blues numbers, and even recorded tunes like Portishead’s ”Machine Gun” when our heroine’s love goes off to war. Designers Bill Mitchell and Sarah Wright create props and sets that serve multiple purposes: Lightbulbs double as pears hanging from trees in the woods. And the uniformly excellent cast proves as expressive in silent moments as they do in singing or speechifying. Rice seems to draw on the whole history of live performance to tell her story — and the result is an absolute delight even as its message can unsettle us. A-
(Tickets: stannswarehouse.org or 866-811-4111)